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raise his reader to that strange and mysterious delight, which, for instance, the widowed lover feels in indulging his imagination in all its wildness and extravagance, in weeping and beating his breast over the grave of his mistress, in conjuring up her form and addressing it in the piercing and passionate bursts of insane eloquence, in treasuring up a ringlet of her hair or any relic of her love, as all that the world contains of dear and valuable ;-if the poet would do this, he must first transform his reader into a widowed lover, must make him for a time feel his sad feelings, participate in bis bitter remembrances of the past, his utter hopelessness for the future. Hence, to get the true pleasure of tragedy, very considerable pains must be undergone; so great, perhaps, as sometimes to neutralize, or more than Deutralize the pleasure. Dr. Johnson, we think, says, that having once read King Lear, he never could bring himself to read it again; and few readers surely can put Clarissa Harlowe down without emotions of the most painful keenness.
What is the reason that such is not oftener the case ? What is the reason that, in fiction any more than in real life, we should be willing to undergo the pain for the sake of the pleasure? In the first place, the pain produced by the description, however excellent, can never, we think, equal what would be produced by the real fact. Secondly, there is always a lurking kind of consciousness that we are only playing with the mere imaginations of misery, and that we can get rid of them when we please, by laying down the book and turning our thoughts to something else. Lastly, the imagination is more excited, the poet having added all his powers to our own, in the excitation of it.
Real misery is, perhaps, never to be found unconnected with something disagreeable or disgusting. There is something of meanness, of selfishness, of vulgarity about it, which causes a mind not wholly absorbed in it, to revolt. All this is carefully lost sight of by the poet; it is necessary that his characters be such as we can sympathize with ; their distresses unmixed with any thing that should violate that sympathy. Every body must feel at once that how well soever the grief of a family round a sick bed should be expressed by the painter, yet, if he should open the bed to us, and expose the effects of the disease in some putrid and running sore, we should turn from his picture in disgust, and reprobate the bad taste displayed in it.
Herein, we think, consists the chief fault of the “ City of “ the Plague.” Mr. W. has accumulated upon his reader all shocking, all disgusting images ; images at which we sicken as much in description as in fact.
The story is simply this : A young man, with his friend, arrives in London, from a distant voyage, at the time of the plague. Frankfort, which is the young man's name, finds his mother dead. In the course of the poem he also dies; and his mistress, a lovely young woman, whom he left among the lakes of Cumberland, and who is found, at the beginning of the drama, going about the city, to visit and comfort the infected, dies likewise of the plague. It is evident that the subject is in itself monotonous enough : but it is not this of which we are complaining; Mr. W. has managed to diversify it with every possible image of disgust.
An impostor pretends to astrology, and the multitudes gather round him to inquire the fates of themselves and their friends. Among the rest, a woman asks whether her child will recover from the plague.
Astrologer. Child ! foolish woman! now thou hast ng child.
With fixed eyeballs, and a stony heart.'
• Mid all the ghastly shrieking,
And all the ghosts that hourly flock’d in troops : Unto the satiated grave, insane
With drunken guilt, I mock'd my Saviour's name
Shameful to man, his Saviour, and his God.
Upon each other all at once struck dumb. pp. 41, 42,
One Walsingham, the master of the Revels, is represented as overcoming the memory of a beautiful and virtuous wife, the warnings of an aged priest; the reproaches of his own conscience, in the embraces of a harlot.
Shortly after, two women are introduced giving an account
• 1st Woman. I cannot say that I dislike the Plague,
And so I left them. 'Twas but slovenly work.' p. 90.
1st Woman. I was sent for to a house that was plague-struck,
• At once I knew the caitiff, as he lay
. We were three sisters once
And life feels life thus sweeten'd by revenge. pp. 91–9.
•[A wild cry is heard, and a half-naked man comes raving
That yield no sound to comfort my stopp'd heart.? p. 96.
(1st Man. The ghastly idiot-negro, charioteer !
Thank God he is no Christian-only a negro.', p. 156. Now all this, beyond all doubt, is most strongly painted: but what is the effect of it? Is it not altogether disagreeable? Are the subjects such as any man alive would choose to exercise his imagination upon-except Mr. Wilson? Besides, all the persons,--the astrologer, the maniac, the negro, the revellers, the prostitutes,-are all equally unknown, and unfamiliar to the reader, have no hold upon him, excite no interest
in him, are just introduced with their respective images of horror, and sent off again.
We turn however with pleasure to the beauties of the poem ; and it must be obvious to every one, that he who could produce even such passages as those above, could not write a poem, of any length without beauties.
The silence and desertion of the city are strongly painted in the following lines.
• unrejoicing Sabbath! not of yore
The astrologer, to a young and beautiful lady' inquiring the fate of her husband.
• Where are the gold, the diamonds and the pearls,
Lady, thou need'st this wedding-ring no more !
Now weeping at my side.' p. 28.
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